WCC speaks up for Cuban churches in US sanctions row
Following forthright statements from a number of American Churches ñ including the Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodists, Church World Service and the Episcopal (Anglican) Church ñ the World Council of Churches in Geneva has condemned proposals to tighten US sanctions on Cuba.
In particular the WCC, which brings together over 340 national churches from different Christian traditions across the world, is concerned that a report by the Bush Administrationís Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, if accepted, would isolate the Cuban Council of Churches.
The WCC sees this as constituting ìremarkably aggressive interference in religious mattersî and has been attacked by American churches as a ìbreach of religious freedomî ñ contrary to the supposed position of the administration.
The proposals say that the US Department of Commerce should no longer grant licenses for humanitarian aid to Cuba that would go through the Cuban Council of Churches because the church body is ìcontrolled by the Cuban governmentî. This allegation has been dismissed by international partners of the CCC.
The World Council of Churches has a personal interest in Cuba relations, since its own widely-respected evangelism secretary ñ who also heads up the WCC mission team ñ is a Cuban, the Rev Dr Carlos Hams.
Cuba has been widely criticised for its human rights record, but equally has been praised for its social, health and education policies. Its economy has been badly hit by the US-led blockade over the years, and critics say that this has hampered moves towards political pluralism.
Many Protestant churches in Cuba enjoy a positive relationship with the government, but the state registration system has brought some independent churches into conflict. The Catholic Church has a historically much more fractious relationship with the regime, since it opposed revolutionary change in the 1950s.
Fidel Castro has a long-standing interest in religion and a strong relationship with liberation theologians in the region. But he is seen as too autocratic, isolated and out of touch by the new Latin American left, and by those in the churches who support the Cuban revolutionís social vision but also believe that the denial of political freedom is counter-productive and wrong.
Globally, church groups continue to campaign for civil rights and the release of political prisoners in Cuba. But they also argue against isolation and the US blockade, and believe that positive ecumenical relations are the best way forward.
[Also on Ekklesia: Bush report may ban aid and church relations with Cuba 03/07/06; US Cuba travel ban violates religious freedom, say agencies; US Anglicans seek to end Cuban isolation; Christians face jail after President's call to visit Guant·namo; US Presbyterians call an end to Cuba travel restrictions; Bishop urges Bush to allow help for Cuba; Catholic Worker plans Guantanamo protests over Lent; US in talks to close Guantanamo Bay; Axis of evil offers to come to America's rescue; Christians told of Guantanamo Bay hunger strike; Ecumenists seek to recover evangelistic emphasis, Cuban WCC secretary says]